Why the Centralized Online Marketer in Hotels is Struggling
There are endless titles for jobs that have been created in the last decade to form a role that signifies the ever growing business levels and importance of online representation. These job titles are now stabilizing themselves, but clearly the roles are not. The positive development is that the role has become more senior over the last years, nowadays these guys are part of the revenue meetings, part of the budgeting process, and a permanent member of the internal sales meetings.
That of course is only the case when the employee and colleague is actually based on property, sure the title says it, online, but does that mean the role, the actual position is online too?
In the last 10 years on the many visits in several geographical areas, as well as numerous independent as well as large established hotel brands, we have seen incredible marketing opportunity vanish, through many notable decisions, one of the largest being the centralization of the online marketing role.
The following will tell you why so much financial opportunity is lost and why it takes significant time to get the role up to speed with the one hotel or property.
1. Going local.
Sure corporate online guidelines and the brand book are of extreme importance, they give the company direction, a strategy to grow, expand and deliver to stakeholders like shareholders. Even more so they should be used to educate and motivate employees to become a part of a company culture. Question asked, is that material that supports every hotel valuable locally, for one or two properties?
Sure we need those guidelines, but a centralized set up will not promote any local development. In fact it will do quite the opposite, local knowledge is of extreme importance. Not only following that ever growing trend of “the need to be and experience local”, but the actual physical need of a person being there to understand the market segmentation, pricing, packaging, efforts of the outlets like restaurant or spa. Knowledge of what’s going on in the city, to be able to plan ahead with co-sponsors or partners, yes they require meetings, time and valid local input to create successful campaigns. One rule definitely does not fit all, within online marketing.
2. Physical attendance.
As mentioned before the online marketer needs to have a key position in the management team. Not only because online travel is soon or already for many hotels surpassing 30% of the room revenues, but also because decisions, in room management, yield management, inventory, corporate and leisure contracting is still in many cases a local decision.
An example is a recent client contracting with one of the largest Japanese electronics companies, bidding for about 4000 room nights. The sales calls went smooth, the RFP was approved and much was done agreed with the local travel manager in London. There was one challenge, the company wanted to make use of their intranet, with full support of the hotels, last minute promotions, monthly local updates and much more. In fact they are fully open to opportunities like special weekends for the employees, Spa packages, last minute upgrade opportunities and much more. Clearly this requires someone who know what’s going on, knows what gaps there are in the future, builds a personal (not virtual) relationship with that client. In this case the client was not only lost, but the opportunity to create, build an additional revenue stream, marketing opportunity for the brand, were too.
Understanding the property or hotel is vital, it’s that local knowledge and skill that should be communicated, worldwide!
3. Cost or revenue.
The large corporates are continuously showing the trend of centralizing, clearly with many financial benefits, streamlining in efficiency and creating effective processes. Our team has been a part of many of those, both with Six Sigma as well as Lean activities and implementations. Main results are not only cost saving results but even more, removal of non value added steps in the process for particularly the guest. Defending roles to the management in marketing have always presented themselves with challenges; how do you calculate success? Many companies have come with resourceful calculations, and other efforts to show results of campaigns, PR activities and events. Yet there is not one that is widely accepted, particularly not when it comes to leadership or management decisions, and definitely not within the hospitality industry.
Besides the role description as described before being an issue, the wage is also a hot potato within the management team. Can and will the hotel be able to afford the online marketing position. All too often do we come across the function being filled by happy and creative, but unskilled people who do not only fill a position that can create an entirely wrong profile, with the simple touch of a button, but are not strategic, do not communicate with the revenue department, or show only basic skills within marketing. This leads to incredible potential revenue displacement.
Tools available online, bookings codes, virtual or physical codes can help show results of marketing efforts, but the biggest result by far making the position worth every penny, on property, is marginal revenue growth and bottom line profits through upselling or yielding.
4.Instant results, seasonal efforts.
In the many years of consulting, but also in analyzing business and business performance we have come across something which is rather sensitive in our hospitality industry, called low seasons. An industry jargon, which is baked into the way business levels are viewed over a certain period. We predict the business and base pricing and sales strategies around that.
All too often do we find that the online marketing role is used mainly for last minute campaigns or to filter through standing promotions like the typical Romantic Weekend.
The focus is on existing contracts, corporate or leisure or group contracts. The online marketing role is too often seen as ‘last minute’ fill up solutions. They are even account managers for Booking, Expedia and such highlighting exactly that. Sure that role together with the revenue director is of great importance, but long term strategies for all low season are so extremely important, as we know that with existing contracts the chance to get those filled are minimal. Early planning and campaigning can be a great solution, and offer brilliant opportunity, by thinking outside the box. With support of the entire executive team great financial efforts can indeed make a difference to the somewhat old fashioned way of addressing these low seasons.
Finally a few more words on the centralized online marketing role. The above list is by far non exclusive, there are many other pro’s and con’s to centralizing or decentralizing the role. However the trend is affecting business levels, and makes many companies in the hotel industry more of a slow corporate monster than is needed. And that really makes the industry very unsexy to attract the best people in the market, but also creates a competitive environment, which all comes down to one thing, pricing. Putting a hold to incremental growth, creativity, innovation and people development!
The New Rules of Marketing & PR – David Meerman Scott
The Social Media Marketing book – Dan Zarella
Marketing for Hospitality & Tourism – Philip R Kottler
ISixSigma – Online Marketing
Mckinsey – Generations to come
Ethics Resource Centre – Research brief
Mocinno International Consulting data